Programming note: Mark will be on TV later tonight, Saturday, joining Shannon Bream, Kat Timpf and Tyrus on "The Greg Gutfeld Show", coast to coast across America at 10pm Eastern/7pm Pacific on Fox News.
What with all these allegedly exciting developments in the "Russia investigation", I was trying to recall the last US president to collude with the Russians - and then I remembered: it was President Harrison Ford in Air Force One, released twenty years ago this very month! As readers well know, I regard the money-no-object 40-car-motorcade reflector-shades-a-go-go school of presidential protection as generally risible - and perhaps one reason why presidential-security-breach thrillers have become a genre (White House Down, Olympus Has Fallen) and even a series (London Has Fallen, featuring the re-taking of the most routinely kidnapped president in history). But this one was better than more recent efforts: Air Force One, from July 1997 - or early in William Jefferson Clinton's second term, when he was up to his ...well, not his neck in Monica woes, but nevertheless managed to find time from the burdens of office to see this film twice.
Back then, Hollywood was an overwhelmingly Clintonian town, but from a business viewpoint a presidential Oprah in drag feeling your pain and your breasts left something to be desired. So every summer the studios worked out their issues by releasing movies about the kind of chief of state they'd really like. In the vernacular of the day, men are from Mars, women are from Venus, but celluloid presidents have to be from both - adept at the touchy-feely stuff, but also willing to kick butt; they start off feeling your pain, and end up causing it. Thus, in Independence Day, when President Bill Pullman's strategy of talking the aliens to death Slick Willie-style comes to naught, he gets in touch with his masculine side, climbs into the cockpit and takes off to zap the space invaders himself.
In Air Force One, President Harrison Ford starts by giving a speech in Moscow: "Never again will I allow our national self-interest to deter us from doing what is morally right." This line manages to be both patently absurd and unnervingly plausible: Indeed, it's all too easy to imagine Barack Obama intoning it at the UN shortly before idly standing by while ISIS beheads the entire population of Mosul, or North Korea accidentally nukes Slovenia. It sits a little more awkwardly in the mouth of Harrison Ford - and happily, by the time it's over, he's shot dead several terrorists; cunningly spoken fluent Russian to them; taught himself to fly the presidential jet and dodge MiG fighters; hung off the edge of the plane's open parachute bay, clinging on by his fingernails; hung off the edge of the parachute bay a second time, with the added complication of being locked in mortal combat with a Kazakh terrorist leader while snarling through clenched teeth, "Get. Off. My. Plane." Scoff if you must, but that line has lingered with me sufficiently that every time I see Air Force One - as in Paris a couple of days ago - it springs unbidden to my lips.
Poor old Obama, by contrast, couldn't speak Russian any better than he can speak Austrian, couldn't fly jets, couldn't hang off planes, couldn't even handle the strain of a perfunctory commiseration on the beheading of a US citizen without needing to unwind 20 minutes later with 18 holes at the Martha's Vineyard Golf Club. Donald Trump is similarly deficient in most of those skills, notwithstanding his general alpha-male body lingo with M Macron et al. So a certain bipartisan suspension of disbelief is required. Fortunately, Harrison Ford eschews the momjeans.
Wolfgang Peterson begins his film with the Yanks and the Reds colluding, as we now say, on a joint Russo-American commando raid against Kazakh strongman General Radek, a born-again Commie. But, after a celebratory banquet in Moscow, little does Harrison Ford suspect that an elite terrorist squad has inveigled itself on to his presidential jet. He ought to have suspected because the chief Kazakh whacko is Britain's Gary Oldman, who back then played the villain in at least 80 per cent of Hollywood movies and who here carries the additional tell-tale signs of a goatee and an even riper accent than he used for Count Dracula. Soon the Kazakhs are seizing the plane, killing or capturing everyone, except, curiously enough, the President. A desperate Secret Service detail hustles him into the one-man "escape pod", abandoning his wife and Chelsea-like daughter to their fate (Hollywood presidential pictures of the Nineties either literally killed off the Hillary figure or, as in this instance, did their best to)..
"He ran from here like a veeped dog," jeers Oldman. Over in the White House, the dogged Veep Glenn Close ponders her constitutional authority and orders the Air Force to retrieve Harrison Ford's escape pod. When they do, it proves to be empty: the veeped dog has decided to stay on the jet, as a lounge-suited commando hiding out in the baggage hold and round the back of the moist-towelette supplies, plotting to take back his plane. Ford does his best to give the impression that he's hastily improvising his transformation from a verbose poseur politician to a kick-ass combat warrior for whom "the politics of personal destruction" is a personal credo. So for the first half of the movie he spends much of his time sticking his head nervously up from various hatches like the groundhog in Groundhog Day. But, in the end, Harrison Ford is Harrison Ford. The film would have had more tension if they'd cast Gerald Ford.
There's another problem, too. It's impossible, watching the movie scenes of candlelight vigils at the White House and comparing them with the real thing on the news bulletins, not to be aware of how desperately synthetic the whole thing is. The conflicting tugs between Ford's duties as head of state and as a husband and father ring especially hollow: you know from the beginning that the film has no serious intention of killing off either his wife or child. Real life, as we know from the near simultaneous death of Princess Di, is not so respectful of formula. But Ford's slick middle-aged comic-book gets by on his craggy charm and Oldman's panache. Air Force One (the film) is in that sense much the same as Air Force One (the jet) - efficient enough but mostly on autopilot.
~If you disagree with Mark's movie columns and you're a member of The Mark Steyn Club, then feel free to let it fly in the comments. Club membership isn't for everybody, but it helps keep all our content out there for everybody, in print, audio, video, on everything from civilizational collapse to our Saturday movie dates. So do have at it in the comments section. For more on The Mark Steyn Club, see here - and join us Monday morning for a brand new SteynPost.